St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli had an interesting response when asked how important Saturday’s 59-49 win over visiting Xavier was.
From this vantage point, it was the most important win of the season, with the Hawks reeling after Wednesday’s 73-64 home loss to St. Bonaventure.
If the Hawks would have lost to Xavier, they would be 1-4 in the A-10. While 2-3 isn’t exactly a position to feel very comfortable about, it sure beats having only one win in five games.
Yet Martelli wouldn’t give a definitive response on the importance of the win.
“It is only important if Monday we are better than we are today,” he said.
One could argue that the team is likely to be better Monday at practice only because it won on Saturday. If the Hawks had another clunker against Xavier, they likely would have gone into an even deeper funk.
The Hawks to a man knew they had to step it up after such a lethargic showing against the Bonnies.
“This was a big game to bounce back,” said center C.J. Aiken, who had six points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. “We have been struggling, we focused more.”
That previous lack of focus was the subject of a team meeting after Wednesday’s loss.
“We had a team meeting about going harder and just listening to each other because that is what we needed,” Aiken said.
Besides the fact that the Hawks won as close to a must-win game as they have faced this season, the way they were victorious was impressive.
Xavier scored the first nine points of the second half to take a 35-30 lead and at that point the Hawks could have reverted to the form they showed Wednesday. Instead, they regained their composure, continued to chip away, and eventually took a 50-49 lead on Carl Jones’ three-pointer, the beginning of a 12-0 run to end the game.
One other thing was noticeable – the Hawks played with more urgency.
In addition, their spacing was better on offense.
The person who St. Joseph's drew energy from was Halil Kanacevic, who enjoyed his best performance since the second game of the year when he had 15 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots in 44 minutes of the overtime win over Notre Dame.
Against Xavier he had 15 points, six assists, eight rebounds and four blocked shots in 32 minutes. Kanacevic felt the critical point was the second half after the Musketeers scored the first nine points.
“Today we answered back, caught a punch and punched back,” Kanacevic said.
It must be noted that Kanacevic played well against St. Bonaventure, scoring 16 points and hitting all six of his field goal attempts. It's just that others didn't follow his example.
On Saturday, it was a different story.
So on this day, when the Hawks couldn’t afford to lose another conference game, they responded.
And in doing so, the Hawks have given their coach a greater chance of seeing an improved team on Monday and more importantly on Wednesday, when the Hawks play their next A10 game at Fordham.